A phaseout of single-use plastics is not only imperative for our environment and public health, but it is also totally realistic for businesses to comply with over the next year.

On Oct. 24, Bill 40 passed through the Public Safety and Welfare Committee. This bill would phase out the use of unnecessary petroleum-based plastics — including straws, foam containers, cups, and lids — by Jan. 1, 2021.

This bill will now face a final vote by the full City Council before going to the mayor’s desk.

Despite some reporting that paints a picture of suffering businesses, here’s the reality: Dozens of small, local businesses have voluntarily eliminated petroleum-based plastics from their operations, with great success. And the alternatives to petroleum-based plastic are abundant and easily accessible.

Small Businesses Prove It Can Be Done

Take it from Trisha “Mama T” Gonsalves, the executive chef at Umeke Market, who says, “Since opening, we have only used compostable products, and we do it with grace and ease.” This small, downtown cafe believes it is a moral obligation to do its part and operate as a plastic free business.

Bill 40 would phase out the use of unnecessary petroleum-based plastics, like this styrofoam bowl and plastic fork holding beef udon with broccoli.

Flickr: Pete Jelliffe

Worried about quality or supply? Talk to Matt Hong, the co-founder of Banan, serving the popular banana soft-serve at four locations on Oahu. They use 100% plant-based bowls, lids, spoons, cups, and straws.

Hong testified at the hearing, saying, “We have had zero complaints from any of our customers about the quality of these products. Since we made the switch from petroleum-based plastic, we have had no issues with quality, cost, or supply.”

The Industry Has Been Stalling For Years

So, why are groups like the Hawaii Food Industry Association, the Hawaii Restaurant Association or KYD fighting Bill 40? These industries profit heavily from the perpetuation of petroleum-based plastics, and have fought every year for over 10 years to kill any measures that would effectively reduce single-use plastics from our waste stream.

Oahu is simply catching up to the growing movement to address plastic pollution.

Most of us have seen first hand how plastic pollution plagues our island and the whole world for that matter. Some advocates even describe this issue as an oil spill, with petroleum-based plastics polluting our oceans and beaches. But some businesses prefer benefiting from the use of cheap plastic products while leaving our communities, environment, and wildlife to bear the costs and negative externalities of this problem.

Take ABC Stores, for example, who claimed that this bill would threaten their entire business and prevent them from raising wages for their workers. As a corporation that rakes in sales of $230 million per year and is known as the 37th largest company in Hawaii, ABC Stores undoubtedly has the resources to make the transition.

And if truly small businesses like Banan and Umeke Market can do it, then the ABC Stores certainly can as well. Alarmist rhetoric by opponents of Bill 40 has no place in island politics — the intention of the bill is clear and we should be working together to clean up our oceans rather than sowing confusion.

Alternatives Are Abundant

Every single major distributor on the island already offers an abundance of plastic-free alternatives that come in all shapes and sizes, including paper, bio-plastic and certified compostable products. Even Costco carries these alternatives. And if businesses still struggle, Bill 40 includes a financial hardship exemption for any businesses that cannot find viable alternatives.

When you look at the facts and follow the money, it becomes clear. While some businesses have resisted change for over a decade, dozens have made the switch with ease. And the people are ready: Out of nearly 900 pages of testimony, virtually all (97%) who submitted are in support of Bill 40, coming from a diverse group of community members, youth, businesses, and non-profits. Only one individual submitted testimony in opposition to the bill.

It’s Time To Do The Right Thing

At both the state and city levels, advocates working on this issue have seen the industry block nearly every bill to reduce single-use plastics for over a decade. And they have used the same excuses every year — that they need more time and more alternatives before they are ready. And the same excuses are running dry.

Councilman Joey Manahan asked an industry representative, “I’ve been working with you folks for over 13 years and you keep kicking the can. It seems like you want to kick the can again. When will you be ready?” While they stumbled to find a response, I suspect the true answer is that they will never be ready. But when policies like Bill 40 do pass, businesses will transition with the grace and ease that places like Umeke Market and Banan have already proven to be possible.

And these solutions are nothing new — cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Malibu and Santa Monica have also passed comprehensive phaseouts of single-use plastic. Maui and Hawaii counties have also enacted bans on foam. Oahu is simply catching up to the growing movement to address plastic pollution.

As 17-year-old student Novell Goodman so powerfully stated in her testimony, “If not now, then when?”

As the four-hour hearing came to a close, Councilman Tommy Waters repeated these potent words as he announced the bill would move forward: “If not now, then when?”

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About the Author

  • Doorae Shin
    Doorae Shin is a community organizer and environmental advocate. She currently works as the Surfrider Foundation Oahu Chapter Coordinator and is the co-founder of the Good Food Movement. Shin previously served as the Plastic Free Hawaii program manager for Kokua Hawaii Foundation and the Student Sustainability Coordinator for the University of Hawaii Office of Sustainability.